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Theatre / Rhinoceros

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Rhinoceros is a 1959 absurdist play written by Eugène Ionesco. It tells the story of one man, an alcoholic named M. Berenger, who watches in horror as his friends suddenly start to become rhinoceroses. The play is symbolic of the upsurge of Fascism and Nazism that preceded the events of World War II.

A production was put on in 1961, starring Eli Wallach as Berenger, Wallach's wife Anne Jackson as Daisy, and Zero Mostel as Berenger's friend Jean. A 1974 film was also released, with Gene Wilder in the Berenger role as "Stanley", Mostel reprising the Jean role as "John", and Karen Black as Daisy. A newer production in 2007 at the Royal Court Theatre starred Benedict Cumberbatch as Berenger.

This play provides examples of:

  • Adam and Eve Plot: Berenger proposes Daisy to rebuild the human race with their children as they are the only humans left. Daisy rejects the proposition and ends up joining the rhinoceroses.
  • Aerith and Bob: The 1961 production mixes normal names such as Berenger, John and Daisy with names like Mr. Nicklebush (originally Mr. Papillon), Mrs. Ochs (Mrs. Boeuf), Dribble (Dudard) and Shiftor (Botard).
  • The Alcoholic: Berenger. He doesn't even like the taste of alcohol, he just drinks so he doesn't become self-conscious.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Daisy. Averted with Berenger.
  • Animorphism: Everyone in the town is literally turning into rhinoceroses. Nobody knows if the changes are reversible or not.
  • Betty and Veronica: Berenger (Betty) and Dudard (Veronica) to Daisy (Archie).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Berenger is the last human in town by the end, but he resolves not to conform to this mass movement.
  • Body Horror: All the transformations into a rhinoceros are generally depicted as rather graphic, especially Jean, who is almost shown transforming into a rhinoceros in painstaking detail: each time he re-emerges from the bathroom his face and skin have morphed more and more. True to the conformists the play actually satirises, the people feel no actual pain, other than a hoarse voice they don't notice, when transforming.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Berenger violently wakes from a nightmare about rhinos in Act III.
  • Cassandra Truth: The people at Berenger's workplace don't believe in the rhinoceroses until they start becoming ones themselves, except for Daisy, who also had trouble getting people to believe her.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Apparently Ionesco exists in the world of the play, too.
  • Clothing Damage: Jean damages Berenger's jacket when he starts turning into a rhino.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The logician who makes all kinds of bizarre statements about cats.
    Logician: All cats die. Socrates is dead. Therefore, Socrates is a cat.
  • Comically Missing the Point: In Act I and some of Act II, all Berenger cares about is whether African rhinos have one or two horns (It's Indian rhinoceroses that have one horn). This is before he realises that the rhinos all used to be human beings.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Daisy, the girl Berenger is in love with, decides to become a rhinoceros at the end.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Bereneger at the beginning of the play.
  • Dwindling Party: One by one, everyone starts turning into a rhinoceros, until only Berenger is left.
  • The Eeyore: Lethargic, apathetic, impassive Berenger, at least in the first act.
  • Everything Is Racist: A discussion about rhinoceroses changes to a discussion about race after Jean calls Berenger an "Asiatic mongol" and declares them as "yellow" when Berenger tries to defend them as people like everybody else.
    Berenger: Whatever they are, you're bright red!
  • Heroic BSoD: Berenger at the end, who decides he wants to start becoming a rhino but can't.
  • Humans Are Ugly: Berenger starts to think this at the end, but quickly snaps out of it and decides to stay himself no matter what.
    "I'm the last man left and I'm staying that way until the end. I'm not capitulating!"
  • Hope Spot: At first Daisy decides to stay with Berenger and help him fight this rhino craze. But then she changes her mind and leaves him to join them.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In Act I, Jean tries to help Berenger to snap out of his alcoholic depression. His encouragements work... and then he announces that he's going out for a drink with friends.
  • The Insomniac: Berenger in Act III, who is so scared of turning into a rhinoceros that he can't sleep at night and has to take barbiturates to set himself straight.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Jean recommends that Berenger go and see "one of those Ionesco plays".
  • Only Sane Man: Berenger, who everyone seems to think is mad for not conforming. He does go into Sanity Slippage in the third act, but manages to reaffirm himself.
  • Rhino Rampage: And it only gets worse throughout.
  • Screaming Woman: A housewife with a cat, frequently.
  • That Poor Cat: A rhinoceros tramples a woman's cat.
  • Translation Convention: Productions of the show that are in any language but its native French will retain Berenger's line about how he's speaking French.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The first rhinoceros, but only to Berenger.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Berenger slaps Daisy across the face after they have an arguement about the rhinos. Downplayed, since he later claims he didn't know what got into him, and that he would never do that again.